The 8 Most Common Fights All Couples Have (and How on Earth to Resolve Them)
You might think that the arguments you and your partner have are unique to you, but there's a good chance that what you're fighting about is something that most couples in long-term relationships deal with. Although it's nice to know you aren't alone, it doesn't necessarily make solving the problems any easier.
"The longest-running arguments are the ones with the most at stake," Dr. Pepper Schwartz — a University of Washington professor who has made it her mission to improve the lives of those in long-term, aging relationships — tells POPSUGAR about the eight common fights that couples, particularly married ones, endure. "Those are the ones that keep coming up with no conclusion, that leave you both bristling or feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated."
"The longest-running arguments are the ones with the most at stake — the ones that keep coming up with no conclusion, that leave you both bristling or feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated."
For those issues, we enlisted the advice of Schwartz and another seasoned expert, Dr. Dain Heer, whose "active consciousness" approach helps people who are stuck in a cycle of no change.
Read on to see which of these fights ring an all-too familiar bell . . . and what strategies you and your partner can employ to fix them.
One thing to consider: although Schwartz believes people don't use "third-party help" in the form of a therapist enough ("there's something about the American spirit that says we've got to be able to do this by ourselves," she says), she does preface the following solutions with a major caveat: "If it keeps happening, around the third revolution, that might be when you say, 'We don't have the equipment to handle this. Let's talk to someone else before there's more damage.'"
Extended Family Drama
"Your mother did it again!"
The Fight: Sure, you've chosen a partner, but you don't get to choose the family they come from — or your own, for that matter. "There might be a mother who is unfriendly, a father-in-law who drinks too much, a sibling who's always asking for money," Schwartz tells POPSUGAR. "Those are the kinds of things where people argue because there's never an end to it and often they don't see it the same way as their partner."
The Fix: Create a game plan for how to treat individuals, like a meddling mother-in-law. "Those require protected conversations and coming to a joint policy that they agree to enforce," Schwartz advises. "It can help moderate the situation by, say, protecting one partner from the relative if they really can't deal with it. Or having a slush fund they use for the errant sibling so they don't go into their bank account. Yes, it's tough if you hate your wife's mother or your husband's best friend, but you can figure ways to isolate those things."
Ongoing Day-to-Day Frustrations
"You never do the dishes!"
The Fight: Whether it's a kitchen sink filled with dirty dishes or a toilet bowl that never gets cleaned or a living room filled with kids' toys that no one picks up, these small but lingering frustrations can turn into something far worse: "It's a contest of wills, and it's chronic," Schwartz says. "You want to get out of the habit or else it'll just keep happening."
The Fix: "Treat the problem as the problem and not the person as the problem," Schwartz says. "Instead of saying, 'I wish you'd clean up your dirty dishes, and it really makes me angry, and it makes it harder for me to clean, and you do it again and again,' say, this: 'My problem is that I don't like dirty dishes in the sink, and I know it's not your problem because you don't mind it, but can we work on a solution together here so I'm OK and you're OK?' So now it's about the dishes, not the asshole who left them there! And that's different. You can deal with the dishes." By changing the way the problem is discussed, you can now work together on a mutual issue — as opposed to working against each other. From that point, she recommends finding the compromise: "Nobody gets exactly what they want, but you can move the needle a little."
"We're just not as close as we used to be."
The Fight: As relationships mature, it's only natural that the connection ebbs and flows. Some years might be stronger, but, more often than not, they feel more distant thanks to ongoing resentments. "The reason you don't feel as close is because you've built up walls of judgment over the years of being together," Heer tells POPSUGAR.
The Fix: "Let go of every resentment you have toward your partner every single day and destroy and uncreate all of the judgements that have accumulated every day, so you don't carry them into the next day," Heer says. Easier said than done? Get in the habit of writing down three things you're grateful for about your partner every day. "Do this on a daily basis because you can either have gratitude or judgment," Heer says. "By having this always-growing list, you can look back on it, eliminate judgment, and make possible a level of closeness that is more like what you had when you first started dating."
Conflicting Parenting Philosophies
"I'm tired of being the only one disciplining our kids!"
The Fight: Long-standing fights about children are all but guaranteed for parents, Schwartz notes. "Couples don't always agree about what the right thing is to do when a kid gets out of line, is in trouble, or needs help. Those are big issues that if they haven't figured out a combined approach, they just happen again and again throughout the life cycle."
The Fix: "Use third-party help," Schwartz says. Although she is a firm believer in couples counseling, in the case of parenting disputes, she recommends a different type of counselor. "A great option people don't take enough is going to a specialist who can offer information about how to parent and has advice for you on child-raising, where you can both present your cases, and the professional can say, 'Here's what we consider best practices, and it's neither one of these, and you could try that."
"We don't have enough money!"
The Fight: Money certainly doesn't buy happiness, but not many people fight about having too much of it as opposed to too little. "Very few couples actually work together to create money," Heer says.
The Fix: Although there's no easy fix to making more money (if there was, we'd all be rich!), one way to avoid money-related fights, Heer says, is to set realistic expectations and be willing to "recognize where you are strong with money and where your partner is strong with money and how you can use each other's strengths to create more." If one person is a spreadsheet wiz, have them attempt a monthly budget. If someone can't control their spending, get them a credit card with a low limit. And if crunching numbers is a struggle for you both, Schwartz suggests seeking help from a financial counselor.
"I know you were flirting with someone else!"
The Fight: When people think of jealousy issues in relationships, they often think of flirting or, worse, affairs. But jealous feelings can come up in a host of nonromantic, nonsexual scenarios. If one partner is saddled with responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent while the other goes to work (or from the other perspective, one gets to be at home with family while the other has to go to work), that can cause friction, as can one couple's success, earnings, outside hobbies, or even their fitness level.
The Fix: "If you're jealous, your point of view is that you're insecure, and you don't think you have value," Heer says. "You need to find your value, and what you value, in life outside of your relationship in order to make things different. Know what makes you valuable compared to others."
Lack of Emotional Support
"Why don't you ever have my back?"
The Fight: "People think you should be on the same side if you're in a relationship," Heer says. In a lot of respects, that's a fair expectation, but two distinct people — who are experiencing personal growth and evolving through the years — might not always have beliefs that sync up.
The Fix: "The reality is you have to have the willingness for your partner to have another point of view and to not support your point of view if that's not what they believe," Heer advises. "You also need to learn to have 'allowance,' which is where everything your partner chooses is just an interesting point of view and thus not something for you to have a judgment about."
"If you don't quit smoking, I'll . . ."
The Fight: Often ultimatums, these fights seemingly have no solution. "Let's say he smokes and you hate it, but they aren't willing to let it go," Schwartz says. "Or your partner's on their cell phone too often but won't minimize the habit. Or they love their dog who's incontinent, and you don't want to take care of a pet. As long as the dog's alive, you've got something you didn't sign up for."
The Fix: Irreconcilable differences might seem like the boiler-plate reason for divorce, Schwartz maintains that it's a term simply to recognize that "some relationships have unfixable problems" and doesn't necessarily mean they're doomed. It does, however, mean, that it's "your job to recognize that and accept it," she says. "You're just in the acceptance category where you're not going to get rid of the offending thing, you just aren't. But you're going to figure out a way to accept it and to minimize its effect on you. There are things like that where people learn to live with them all the time."